Day 5, Thursday November 6, 2008: Hopeful Times?
We start our meetings off today with a visit to the International Monetary Fund. We meet with Age Bakker, Executive Director of the Netherlands and a mixed group of 13 countries including a.o. the Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Cyprus and Israel. Many of which are ‘emerging countries’. Many of these countries have been affected badly by the financial crisis. The IMF has just given the Ukraine a loan of $16.5 billion and is expecting Hungary next (that afternoon in fact) to ask for a loan. Some would say the IMF is “back in business” since they now have more clients but Bakker does not agree. The IMF is faced with a bit of an identity crisis and has just reduced its staff by 15-20%. And as a result they are now stronger and more focused. He does feel that the IMF should play a larger role in the international crisis, a more coordinating role when it comes to regulation. The IMF should be a coordinating platform for the national regulatory bodies, rather than the regulator of the regulators. We are also joined by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the IMF and he does not make the group very happy. He confirms that the world economy is not doing well; he expects it to only grow by 2.2% in 2009, the lowest rate in a very long time. But we should see a turn-around by the end of 2009.
We then receive a private tour of the Capitol building by former Congressman Ron Sarasin and guide Steve Livengood. This tour takes us to the floor of the House of Representatives, where the Congressman explains to us how the House works, and other interesting parts of the building.
We have lunch with Randy Moorhead, a lobbyist for Philips in Washington, DC, and active in the Republican Party (we have the lunch at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill). He starts by placing today’s political situation in a historical context. A big difference between Europe and the United States is that the US is based on an idea rather than a common ancestry. The US is, after all, a melting pot. Also, in the US the individual is celebrated more than elsewhere. This is because the Americans are descended from people who came here at great personal risk (many did not make it); these are self-selected people who made the individual decision to come here. The American entrepreneurial spirit was born that way. Also, many left Europe to get away from repressive governments which might explain the distrust that many Americans still have of the government. He also explains to us why ‘Joe the Plumber’ became such a big hit with the Republicans. Obama said that he thinks ‘it is a good thing to spread wealth around’. But Americans don’t like the idea that money is taken from people who pay taxes, to those who don’t. You have to deserve and earn it, not be given it. He further confirms the reasons we already know why McCain lost the elections and hopes for the sakes of the Democrats that they do not reach 60 seats in the Senate since that is when a party’s worst excesses come to the forefront. A party with that much power tends to overreach and things get out of hand and are subsequently punished in the next elections. According to Moorehead, Obama is the most leftwing of all Senators but as the cautious person that he is, he expects him to be a more centralist President. Should the Democrats not have 60 seats in the Senate, he can blame the Republicans for toning down legislation. Furthermore, he does not think Obama will be able to deliver on the tax cuts he promised to 95% of the American people. From Philips’ point of view, Moorehead is worried about Obama’s health care plans, as a provider of high end health care products (medical scanners etc.).He expects Obama will head to a system where the government provides health care as a payer of services, which would erode private health care.
Our final meeting of the day was with Simon Rosenberg of the Democratic Think Tank NDN (formerly New Democratic Network) and self-described Clintonite. He has noticed three important elements in these elections. Firstly, the way people communicate and advocate these days are very different. Only a third of all people watch TV anymore. The internet has fundamentally reoriented politics; new technologies and media have lowered the barrier for people to enter into the Democratic conversation and what Obama has done was use a 21st century organizational model, he threw the old book away. Normally a team of a few hundred would run a campaign; he had millions running his at a grassroots level. He was able to engage so many more people and the number of voters subsequently went up from 120 million in 2004 to a staggering 136 million this year. Secondly, what is important is that America is going through the most profound demographic changes since the Europeans came to America. Currently, 33% of all American is not white. This is expected to go up to 50% by 2042. After Brazil and Mexico, the US has the largest number of Latinos in the Americas. The states that ‘flipped’ all had a large Latino population. He predicts that by 2012 Texas will become a battleground state. Consequently, race will play a lesser and lesser influence in elections. Thirdly, the collapse of the Republican Party and the conservative movement has played into the hands of Obama. During the Clinton years the median income had risen by $8000. During the Bush years, despite good economic years, the median income had dropped, and then people get very upset. In addition: the Iraq war, civil liberties that were curtailed and corruption scandals all put a stain on the conservative movement. Furthermore, the age group of 11 to 29 year olds is the largest generation at the moment. He feels that the Democrats have a really good chance, with all of these elements combined, to stay in power for the next 30 years provided that the Democrats are able to succeed in tackling the problems. Furthermore, he predicts that we will know soon (before December 1st) who the key players (such as the Secretaries of State and the Treasury Department, and the National Security Advisor) in the next Administration will be. On the role of Congress in the Obama era, he feels that Obama has the opportunity the shape Congress rather than be shaped by it as Clinton was. Many of the current Congressmen are new, having been elected in the last 10 years or even the last 2 years, whereas Clinton was faced with Congressman who had been in Congress for a very long time. He leaves us by saying: these are hopeful times! And that they are…
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